Monday, November 29, 2004 - Council to debate axing 3 managers

David Miller's infamous broom is set to sweep three more off the good ship Toronto's decks. - Council to debate axing 3 managers

Now while there is certainly room for improvment in the way the city operates, it's hard to envision that moving some of the higher level boxes around and drawing some lines will have a discernible impact. My take is that this is nothing more than a convenient way for the mayor to jettison staff he doesn't like.

Of course, the NDP cabal in council is backing the mayor:

...Dumping the commissioners would end the parochialism that has occurred between competing departments...

claims the inveterate nitwit Glenn De Baeremaeker. Really! If shuffling reporting lines and axing a few managers were a solution to departmental parochialism, such silos would have vanished in most organizations a long time ago.

Sunday, November 28, 2004 - TTC on board for smart fare card

Wow - what a difference a few weeks can make! The TTC is now 'fully behind' the implementation of a 'smart-card' based system for customer fares. This comes on the heels of council's decision to pay the city's share for GO Transit expansion. - TTC on board for smart fare card

It can't have been more than a month ago that we heard Mayor Miller castigate the provincial government over not giving enough money - and use this as a reason to refuse to fund the requested contribution to GO. The TTC has long been reluctant about/opposed to smart-cards and fare-integration.

It makes one wonder how the McGuinty & Co have suddenly found themselves with the luxury of this new maleability in the likes if Miller, Moscoe and Ashton??

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - Reconsider expense accounts, Toronto trustees told

It is on the education front that the McGuinty Liberal's reach the zenith of hypocrisy. Today's news shows that they don't even understand how school boards are supposed to be managed. - Reconsider expense accounts, Toronto trustees told

Historically, school board trustees in Toronto did get paid on the basis that being a "trustee" was a full-time job. In reality, these people acted as full-time omsbudman - and not as trustees. The old Toronto school board - as a result - spent wildly and delivered little. In fact, before the Harris education reforms, Ontario schools were laggards. Quebec students learned more in 11 years than Ontarion students did in 13. Ontario education was the sizzle (swimming pools, field trips), without the academic steak.

There are still many in Toronto who believe that everything used to be so wonderful with the system. They pine for the days of high-spending and no standards. It doesn't seem to matter that Ontario was at or near the bottom in the SAIP tests. The teachers' unions are hell-bent on removing any useable metrics from the system. It is the unions' deep bias against the intellectual core of school life that has so many Ontarians looking for alternatives.

It is not the role of a Board of Trustees to pursue petty complaints. It is rather to oversee the strategic management of the school board, to:

- appoint and review the performance of senior leaders
- provide guidelines for policies and set the strategic direction
- approve the budget

TDSB trustees appear still to be complaint-chasers and have yet to assume to role of strategic oversight. In my view, TDSB trusrees shouldn't be paid at all. Trustees at a very successful educational instituation in Ithaca NY are not paid. They serve out of devotion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - The Beach's shifting landscape

Today's Toronto Star has an interesting article describing a very typical Toronto debate. - The Beach's shifting landscape

For those who don't know, The Beach (or The Beaches) is by far and away Toronto's best neighbourhood. It has the most people friendly/accessible stretch of Lake Ontario in the city, and streets lined with mature trees. It's home to a wonderful eclectic mix of retail establishments along Queen St - many of which open well into the evening.

It's also home to friendly dogs who save the city from harm. It's a hop, skip, and jump to downtown. Oh - yes, and it's my home.

Of course, as much as we would like to keep the area a secret - this is not practical. People have been buying up lots with undersized properties and building larger homes on them. The debate is whether these new homes should be required to somehow mesh with the existing architectural style.

My take is that:

1. The new homes people are building are huge improvement over what they replaced.
2. The Beaches has no one style. Every street is different - reflecting that this a mature neighbourhood that has seen development and redevelopment over its history. This is yet another endearing aspect of the neighbourhood.

Let's leave the concept of architectural contextualism for the grand public spaces and buildings.

Saturday, November 13, 2004 - TTC outlines budget plan

In case you haven't been keeping track, the TTC 10-year capital requirements 'bubble' has now jumped from $3.8 billion to $4.5 billion. - TTC outlines budget plan

Despite streetcar track rebuilding projects of recent years (Lakeshore West, King, Carleton, College etc.) there is still $270 million left to do. In fact, it never ends. Streetcar track is far more expensive to maintain that subway-track - or railway track on standard ballast. This is because it is set in the concrete. The rebuilding requires ripping up the concrete. The projects are not only expensive, but also very disruptive to people and businesses in those neighbourhoods effected.

Aside from keeping the ruinously expensive and ineffective streetcar system, the TTC's biggest problem has been the failure to set aside reserves. In the TTC's way of accounting, it only depreciates the net capital paid by the TTC itself. This is a very small amount - as 99% of the Commission's captital has been provided by the city and province. This approach has assumed that governments would show equal largesse in funding asset replacements as they did with the initital projects. In theory, the city could have (and should have) ensured the reserves existed. However, this has't been the history.

In comparison, Montreal's STM and Vancouver's Translink show debt, interest and sinking fund payments on their financial statements.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Miller's myopia

David Miller's comments - as reported by Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy:

Toronto Sun Columnist: Sue-Ann Levy - Miller does no wrong

remind me of Jean Drapeau's famous claim:

The Games can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.

With the mayor in denial about the economic noose of high business taxes - and the City's rampaging hiring spree - I'm wondering whether I've misjudged Harvard University all along.

I always thought that Harvard was strong academically, but had a weak hockey team. Well - although I can't believe that I'm admitting to this in writing - Harvard has a very good hockey team. However, based on Harvard grad Miller's performance, its academics are looking questionable.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Richard Gwyn's muddled forgetfullness

I don't normally use this blog to comment on non-Toronto issues - but I found Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn's recent effort especially troubling.

Given that the US election is today, I've decided to make an exception.

In his column: - U.S. choice: Visionary or isolationist?

Gwyn does actually make some valid points:

1. That should Kerry win the election, only to find his overtures to countries such as France, Germany and Canada spurned, this will prove Bush correct. I have the latter (contingent) point as 8-1 odds on.

2. That the UN is a largely ineffective and often corrupt. Gywn - perhaps because he doesn't wish to upset the sensibilities of the average mindless left-wing Canadian UN lover - is way too kind.

However, as a whole, the column hoists itself by it's own petard.

Gwyn sets up two views of America - one being:

creative, generous, daring, visionary. It is exuberantly, at times naïvely, optimistic. It's the America that has been called, "the last, best hope of the world."

and the other one of :

...spurning of the rules of international law, from the jailing of prisoners without trial at Guantanamo, Cuba, to their torturing in Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq; to the racial profiling of tourists and visitors; by its commitment to the doctrine of a "preventive" attack on any country that might, perhaps, possibly, one day threaten it; and to the doctrine that "either you are with us, or you are against us," this America is the alternative candidate in this election

Gywn states that neither presidential candidiate embodies either of these two supposed 'sides' of the American nation - yet then states that 'this is what Tuesday's election is all about'!

Gwyn imbues the Kerry camp with a shiny crown adorned by vision and optimism, while according the Bush camp with the thorny crown of suspicion and isolationism. The problem here is that the isolationist forces in the US - on both the military side and the economic protectionism side - seem to line up squarely behind Senator Kerry. In other words, Gwyn has the picture completely reversed.

It is the Bush administration that has demonstrated vision and optimism - and perhaps naivete - in attempting to establish democracy in Iraq. It is the Bush administration that has attempted to help the UN retain any sense of meaning by delivering meaningful consequences to back Security Council resolutions.

It's true that the US has taken an awful black-eye by going ahead without the support of the likes of France and Germany. However, it was already taking a black eye for the UN embargo on Iraq - purportedly one of the 'reasons' behind the attacks on the WTC. Remember all the rhetoric about 'US sanctions' killing 500,000 Iraqi children.

Well - this morning, under cover of the election glare, the Sudanese Army and police have surrounded the refugee camps Darfur. God only knows what will happen next. Should the worst occur, perhaps at least the morally bankrupt leaders of France and Germany will at least begin to think.

Chong forgets history and abandons sense

GO Transit Chair Gordon Chong - usually one of the more reasoned voices in the transit 'community' in the GTA - is caught here railing against those terrible rail giants CP and CN. He charges - without giving supporting figures - that these companies are charging 'usurious' rates. - Let's clear tracks for commuters

Setting aside Chong's misuse of the term 'usurious' (CP and CN may charge high rates - albeit that no eveidence is offered - but they cannot be usurious as this term applies to the rate of interest on loans), his rant is full of distortions, misrepresentations and half-truths.

Chong charges:

The railway barons of today need to be told firmly that the old order has changed. It is time to put an end to the lopsided relationship between the railways (which have benefited from extravagant government largesse) and commuter rail authorities.

Well, both CP and CN are widely held public corporations. They are not owned by "barons" - they are owned by many average Canadians. In fact - as of latest filings - the largest shareholder in CPR is the Canada Pension Plan. No other ownership share exceeds 5%. CN is similarly widly-held - and is subject to a statutory upper limit of a 15% ownership stake.

He also states:

Imported, underpaid and exploited Chinese labourers from southern China were given the most dangerous jobs in its construction; in 1881, the officially incorporated Canada Pacific Railway Company was given massive cash subsidies, land grants and property tax exemptions;

Chong goes back over 100 years to find an argument to support a proposed current day theft from ordinary Canadian shareholders, mutual fund holders, and pensioners. What he forgot to mention is that for decades the Canadian government enforced below market rail rates on grain shipments from the Prairies (known as the the Crowsnest Pass Rate). The regulations held back necessary investment on the transcontinental routes.

Since the sunsetting of the regulations, Canadian Pacific has invested billions in upgrading the route through the Rockies. CN and CP are competing vigourously - and the routes are very busy with rail freight. I can attest that it is not possible to observe the Fraser and Thompson canyons for more than a few minutes without seeing a mile long freight train.

History and common sense show that it would be foolhardy to have the government mandate that the railways be forced to absorb lower rates. This would only lead the disinvestment on the routes.